Don’t You Oppress Me!

REG: Furthermore, it is the birthright of every man–

STAN: Or woman.

REG: Why don’t you shut up about women, Stan. You’re putting us off.

STAN: Women have a perfect right to play a part in our movement, Reg.

FRANCIS: Why are you always on about women, Stan?

STAN: I want to be one.

REG: hat?

STAN: want to be a woman. From now on, I want you all to call me ‘Loretta’.
REG: What?!

LORETTA: It’s my right as a man.

JUDITH: Well, why do you want to be Loretta, Stan?

LORETTA: I want to have babies.

REG: You want to have babies?!

LORETTA: It’s every man’s right to have babies if he wants them.

REG: But… you can’t have babies.

LORETTA: Don’t you oppress me.

REG: I’m not oppressing you, Stan. You haven’t got a womb! Where’s the foetus going to gestate?! You going to keep it in a box?!

LORETTA: [crying]

JUDITH: Here! I– I’ve got an idea. Suppose you agree that he can’t actually have babies, not having a womb, which is nobody’s fault, not even the Romans’, but that he can have the right to have babies.

FRANCIS: Good idea, Judith. We shall fight the oppressors for your right to have babies, brother. Sister. Sorry.

REG: What’s the point?


REG: What’s the point of fighting for his right to have babies when he can’t have babies?!

FRANCIS: It is symbolic of our struggle against oppression.

REG: Symbolic of his struggle against reality.

My “Squishy Smallholder and the Rights of Man” has generated some discussion. Go read the comments.

Seriously, go read the comments.

I’m serious you manky Scotch gits!

Read the comments.

I’m warning you…

There, that wasn’t hard was it?

So anyway,

With all due respect, Kevin, Brian and Ally miss the point.

It might be nice if men had a say. But the moral calculus means they get nothing.


If the fetus is human, no one can morally do it in, whtether that is what the man wants or not.

If the fetus is not human, a man has no claim over a woman’s body.

A man being forced to become a father and pay child support against his will isn’t the best situation in the world. But the harsness of this consequence is irrelevent in the face of the moral imperative.

This is an especially odd position for Ally or Brian to take since they believe that life does begin at conception. I suspect that both are arguing for a man’s moral right to intervene not because they want to help fathers dodge their fiduciary obligations, but because they hope to establish a precedent in which a man’s right to involvement allows him to veto a woman’s choice to have an abortion.

This is a tactical rather than a moral position and I doubt it will be very effective.

If abortion is murder, the father’s consent or lack of consent is irrelevent. ALL abortions should be banned, not just ones where the man wants to be a father.

Kevin is right when he concludes that my analysis deny men any voice in the discussion at all. He’s right. But by not dealing with the fetus’ “ontological or moral status,” he hasn’t addressed the most crucial piece of the equation.

Or at least I think so. I don’t really know what ontological means.

What? I’m a farmer. I never claimed to be literate.

I’ll conclude with a challenge to Kevin, Brian, and Ally. Aside from “Life of Brian” style symbolic resistance to univeral imperialist oppression, how does a man’s opinion fit into the moral equation?

Brian B said:

Smallholder says:

“With all due respect, Kevin, Brian and Ally miss the point.”

“If the fetus is human, no one can morally do it in, whtether that is what the man wants or not.

If the fetus is not human, a man has no claim over a woman’s body.”

I said:

“But if we accept that a fetus is a human, then the rebuttal is valid ”


I get the point, in fact, it’s the same one I’ve made all along: The only question that matters is the humanity of the Fetus. OK, I added some snark to that comment, but I assumed that I made it clear that that wasn’t my main argument when I said, “but this is a secondary argument”. If that wasn’t enough, I’ll repeat it here: All of my other comments were snark, I understand and agree that the only question that matters is whether or not the fetus is a human.

I realy don’t like being misrepresented.

Jim said:

I’m not Kevin, Brian, or Ally, but I’ll offer an opinion. The man’s opinion fits into the moral equation because he is one of that child’s parents. He helped create that life, therefore he should, in theory, have a say in whether or not it be allowed to continue to grow, develop, and be born. Of course, if you conclude that a fetus is not human, then that argument is rendered moot.

Brian - You are right - the misrepresentation was unintentional - Ally and Kevin’s responses got my juices flowing, and I guess my mind couldn’t get around the idea that we actually agreed. Please accept my apologies and don’t attribute malice when incompetence satisfactorily explains the mistake.

Jim, you agree that the lack of a fetus’ humanity renders the argument moot. But the same is true of the other side. If the fetus is human, than the man’s feelings are irrelevent because if the fetus is human, it must be protected and allowed to be born regardless of the willingness of the father.

Jim said:

Perhaps it’s better viewed in the context of the problem as it stands now — two opposing viewpoints with no resolution in sight. As it stands now, it seems unfair that the woman alone has the right to choose to abort where the man might be more than willing to accept sole responsibility for raising the child.

You’re right, of course. In either conclusion the man’s opinion is irrelevant. As things stand now, however, it seems like a terrible unfairness that it takes two to make the baby and only one to destroy. It makes life seem all that much more fragile.

Brian B said:


Apology accepted. I know, it’s hard to accept, but it does happen.

Jim does have a point, though. Insofar as our society shirks the real question and leaves fetuses in a moral and legal limbo (ok to abort sometimes, not in others, Lacy’s Laws, etc.), Where it’s not just tissue but not quite human, and a mother’s right but a hard decision, then the issue of the fathers’ feelings and wishes DO come into play. It’s not ideal — ideally, we’d make up our minds one way or the other about the fetus’ humanity — but since that issue is either still debated or completely avoided, we’re left dealing with all these in-between considerations.

Since the moral status of the fetus is somewhat ambiguous, I can see your point as a practical matter.

However, activists calling for acceptance of a moral imperative dilute their morality with pragmatism at their peril.

Aside from supporting Stan/Loretta, I think many pro-lifers are making a tactical mistake by hitching their wagons to the states’ rights position. Roe v. Wade is wrong because the federal government’s court decision limits the right of states to make laws banning abortion.

Let us assume that a new SCOTUS ruling strikes down Roe v. Wade. Some states would move to ban abortion. But others won’t - think Massachusetts for instance. Pro-Lifers will then want a national ban, but oops, have already established a state’s rights issue (we saw this recently over Washington’s right to die law).

Brian B said:

I’m not so sure I agree that pragmatism is ill-advised. The important thing is to recognize the difference between long and short term progress The abolitionist and Civil Rights movements are good examples — take what you can get for now, but never forget the end goal is the liberation of unborn children from the cloud of legalized murder.


I agree that pinning this on States Rights has its pitfalls, but you find yourself facing the old starfish analogy.

And actually, I believe that was OREGON’S right to die law (,0,456845.story?coll=la-home-nation ) But I understand, we all look the same to you. ;-)
So what would you suggest the Right To Life side do instead?

Ally said:

WARNING! Make sure there are no sharp objects on the floor before reading my next sentence.

I agree that the moral status of the fetus is the crux of the issue.

See? Aren’t you glad I gave you that warning.

But I STRONGLY DISAGREE that if the fetus is rendered non-human, with no right to life, that the man has no rights over the woman’s body - UNLESS she has no rights to contact him for support. See, here is the problem in a nutshell. We only grant rights to live after the child is born. But prior to that, women can do whatever they want, and men are subject to it. So - if men have no rights to the woman’s body if the fetus is not human (what else, pray tell, are the options?), then she has no rights - and nor does the child - to approach him for support if he does not want the child.

Now….if that were the case, do you think mayhaps women would be closing their legs more often? Oh, foolish, foolish Ally! I forgot about Big Daddy Government! ::slaps self silly::

Kevin Kim said:

Mark asks:

“how does a man’s opinion fit into the moral equation?”

I think this was asked and answered when I wrote about the webs of responsibility that bind men, women, and their children together.

But you may be asking for too much, Mark. You’ve put us in the position of trying to derive “ought” from “is”– the classic difficulty so nicely delineated by David Hume.

The fact that the woman is the childbearer means that certain things must follow: first and foremost, it is she who will either have the baby or walk into the abortion clinic to have her abortion. No one else can do this in her stead. That’s the “is” of the situation. But what’s the “ought”?

I would say this: the question of whether the man has any say in gestational matters lies in the realm of “ought,” not the realm of “is.”

Why the realm of “ought”? Because whether the man has any say in the matter depends entirely on a person’s (or a couple’s) sense of responsibility. All “oughts” reflect human choices; they aren’t syllogistically derived from the brute facts of a situation. Either one accepts this, or one doesn’t.

The reason I liked Brian’s early response to you is that he was pointing out the commonsense fact that people (in loving relationships) don’t live and make decisions in a vacuum. The opposite case, a sort of cold, radical individualism– MY DECISION AND MINE ALONE– is… barely human.


Kevin Kim said:

In case the above wasn’t clear (and it likely wasn’t):

My point is that quibbling over the fetus’s status has no ultimate influence over how a couple (or a pregnant woman who finds herself alone) will decide the fate of what’s gestating in the mother– call it “child,” or “fetus,” or “group of cells.”

Even if a couple concludes the fetus is human and that abortion is murder, the decision to abort can still be made. Even if that couple concludes the fetus is just a cluster of cells, the decision to see the pregnancy through can still be made.

In other words, fateful decisions have more to do with feelings than logic. What “ought” to b done and who “ought” to have a say are not matters that can be schematized as neatly as your original argument tries to. While I was impressed by the effort you put into the argument, the entire thing falls prey to Hume’s simple truth. No “ought” can be derived from “is.”



Your vaunted reality is the enemy of my truth!


One of my great frustrations is how often we settled for “is” rather than ought.

We ought to do what we ought to do.


I do think that one can make a clear moral argument of ought based on is, but I’m sure that your deeper philosophical training (I am, in the final analysis, just a Virginia hillbilly who ain’t got much of that fancy book larnin’) provides a clearer structure and/or a more stable foundation for evaluating moral claims. In my simple little mind, the recognition of humanity immediately triggers a moral obligation. If I recognize that a fetus IS a person, I OUGHT to refrain from killing it. If I recognize that the fetus is a cluster of cells, I OUGHT to respect a woman’s sovereignty over her own body.

I’m not a Kantian, but I do think there is a categorical imperative to protect the life on non-aggressive humans. You silly philosophy types (who smelt of elderberries) aren’t going to trap me in the Kantian paradox of stopping a murderer with lethal force. This position does give a little wiggle room to consider ending the life of a fetus with human status if continuing the pregnancy will kill the woman - it is self defense. Of course, in true squishy Smallholder fashion, I’m conflicted about that scenario as well.


The claim against the man for child support does not originate from the woman. It originates from the child.

I agree with you that the woman who chooses to make her “cluster of cells” into a human without the father’s consent has no moral claim on the man.

But she cannot sign away her child’s rights. You seem to believe that the child does not have a moral claim. We agree on the mother. I’m open to hearing your argument about why the child has no claim.

As a practical matter, the man’s moral and financial obligation to his unwanted child is usually administered through the custodial mother. This bites. I’m open to finding better ways to administer this support, but a government beaurocracy cutting checks for school clothes would be a bit cumbersome. (I also have a problem with Welfare - I don’t think I have an obligation to support a grown person who does not want to work - but do think society has an obligation to look after the morally innocent children being brought up by shiftless parents. The big problem with this is that we funnel the support funds through those shiftless parents - which means that a good proportion of AFDC payments never reach the DC part of the program.

As to your hope that denying child support to single mothers will change sexual morality, we have seen this before - many pro-lifers also seek to impose motherhood as a penalty and object lesson to other promiscuous teens. In a previous post, Brian wondered where I ran into people who saw unsupported parenthood a deterent. And here we are.

1) I seriously doubt the kind of woman who gets pregnant accidently is the kind of woman who changes her risky behavior because of the nebulous issue of child support - either from the father or the state. Ginny, patially undressed in the back of the Ford, says: “Gee, Johnny, I’d love to go all the way, but I don’t have any claim to support if I get pregnant, so let’s just snuggle!” Women who do risk assessments about their sexual activity use protection.

2) For the sake of argument, let us assume that denying child support, paternal or state, to the child would act as a deterrent. So punishing a woman deters oter women from engaging in unprotected sex, or, better yet, encourages abstinence. This is a worthy goal. But it comes at a cost - we are also punishing the children of those mothers. In America, we generally don’t accept the concept of blood guilt - we don’t punish people for what their family members do (unless you a pro-lifer who makes exceptions for rape or incest). I imagine that torturing the children of burglars would deter some property crime, but I don’t think it would be moral.

Denying support isn’t a deterrent and even if it was, it would be immoral to use it as a deterrent.

Brian B said:


“One of my great frustrations is how often we settled for “is” rather than ought.

We ought to do what we ought to do.”

Yes, we ought to. But we can’t always make that happen. So again, the question becomes, what “ought” we do to bring “Ought” and “is” closer together?

“This position does give a little wiggle room to consider ending the life of a fetus with human status if continuing the pregnancy will kill the woman - it is self defense. Of course, in true squishy Smallholder fashion, I’m conflicted about that scenario as well.”

Ironically, for all my firm stance that a fetus is a human, I’m not conflicted regarding this — if there is sufficient evidence to say with certainty that only the mother or the fetus can survive (which is highly rare and unlikely), then the decicion as to which to spare, while painful and emotionally difficult, is, in my mind, MORALLY ambivalent — neither choice is desireable, but neither is wrong. And in this case, I believe it is entirely up to the mother, or her closest relative if she is incapable of deciding.

“In a previous post, Brian wondered where I ran into people who saw unsupported parenthood a deterent”

No, I didn’t. I wondered where you ran into people who thought that forcing a woman to endure an unwanted pregnancy as a means of punishing her for unchatity was a valid argument against abortion.

Yes, unwanted pregnancy is a good reason to practice chastity, or at least contraception. But I’ve never met anyone who believed it should be used as a cudgel to punish women. The comment of your I specifically took exception with was “the morally hollow position of some pro-lifers that some girls ought to be forced to be mothers as punishment for their sexual depravity”

Punishment and deterrent, while related, are NOT the same thing. And in this case, I believe that the deterrent effect is secondary, and is not to be used as an argument against abortion.

As for denying child support as a deterrent, I am against that regardless of the legal status of the Fetus.

But I do agree with Ally regarding the point of Child Support, and I’d like to explain why.

You argue that while the mother carrying the fetus may have no legal or financial claim on the father, the child after birth does. But this assumes that it is conception is what makes a child. IF, and so long as, we live in a society where the fetus is not considered a human, and it is the event of birth which bestows upon it humanity, then it is the act of childbirth itself that makes a baby, and only the mother (or a willing father) is making a baby, so only the mother has any responsibility. A man who unknowingly impregnates a woman, especially if she tricks him into doing so, is nothing more than a sperm donor.

I personally find this idea as morally repugnant as the idea that a fetus isn’t a human, but if you accept the latter, the former follows logically.

Kevin Kim said:


Kant would have had words with Hume, I’m sure, since Hume’s account of morality was as far from theism as one could go. Kant and Hume represent two antipodes: Kant is the quintessential deontologist (i.e., his ethical arguments are founded on concepts of “deon,” the Greek ord for duty, not related to ontology, which deals w/the nature of being), while Hume, a naturalist, is a consequentialist (judge the morality of an action by the action’s fruits– somewhat similar to Buddhist approaches to ethical questions).

Kant would probably argue that the man has rights and duties in gestational matters, and the logical architecture of Kant’s arguments would reflect his belief in unchanging, universal ethical principles (such as the categorical imperative).

Hume would probably judge each potential abortion on a case-by-case basis: would a baby born into a family (and society) that would shun it be better off dead, or is a life of assured misery better than death? Or, if misery isn’t assured and a pleasant life is possible (through adoption, for instance), how would that affect matters?

Kant would say “Do X because X is the right thing to do, dammit, and it’s your duty to do the right thing.”

Hume would say, “Be pragmatic and examine the likely consequences of your actions before deciding to do X.”

Hume, of course, would be less surprised than Kant to hear that there’s a debate raging over the status of a fetus. Kant, a good theist of his day, would probably take as given that the fetus was human.

You write:

“One of my great frustrations is how often we settled for ‘is’ rather than ought.”

What I’m getting at is that whether the man has any say in the matter is itself a matter of fiat– if the man and woman both believe it to be so, then it is so: the man has a say. Whatever “oughts” the man and woman generate, together or separately, will not have been the direct result of logic. Logic can lead one to a certain inevitable conclusion, but can’t force a person to act according to that conclusion. One CHOOSES to follow the logic or not.

Take an analogous situation involving three people, where one person has the power of life and death over a second person, and a third person is also involved.

Think of, say, two friends, A and B. Let’s say B is armed and is pointing his gun at C, a third– and thoroughly despicable– person. A is imploring B not to kill C, no matter how much of a “monster” C is. Does A have a right to do this? Does B have any reason to listen to A? (Let’s assume for the sake of argument that C has absolutely no say in the matter. Maybe he’s gagged and tied down.)

Obviously this situation isn’t completely analogous to a pregnancy situation. There are bonds of friendship between A and B, but not love. A, B, and C aren’t bound by parenthood, either. However, and maybe this is relevant to the argument you originally constructed, the question of C’s humanity rests on whether B has dehumanized him: it’s easier to kill a living thing, X, when you think X is not human.

Is A at all relevant in the above situation? A doesn’t have direct power of life and death over C. A can’t directly influence B’s perception of C as human or inhuman (e.g., through snazzy psychic powers). Should we, in this situation, say that A has no say in the matter, despite the bonds of friendship? What if A says to B, “You’re my best friend in the whole world, B, and I don’t want you to be a murderer. Please put the gun down”?

In the above situation, it would be wrong to say that the unarmed A has absolutely zero influence over what happens next. Why, then, is B not morally obliged to at least listen to his friend, if moral obligation is so important? Do the bonds of friendship mean nothing? If they mean something, then how much stronger are such bonds between lovers?

If you’re going to go Kantian, then you’re going to have to recognize that the bonds of sex, love and parenthood lie very much within the purview of Kantian ethics. The man isn’t free of obligations, either in my analogy or the hypothetical abortion situation.

And if we look at this through the Humean lens, there’s no reason to see the man’s role as irrelevant here, either. Hume might argue that the bonds of responsibility arise for naturalistic reasons, but he’d acknowledge that such bonds exist, and that ther bending or breaking will have significant consequences.

Whether from a deontological or consequentialist standpoint, then, it seems obvious the father has a role to play in abortion situations (whether he manfully steps up to play the role is another matter). From the Kantian perspective, that role arises from his duties to his lover/wife/etc. From the Humean perspective, responsible action will likely lead to pleasanter consequences than the man’s cutting and running, or from the woman’s attempt at shutting the man out of all decisions relating to the fetus.


PS: Part of the reason I haven’t focused so much on the question of the fetus’s status is that I don’t think that issue’s going to be resolved anytime soon. What’s more, I think that issue, though important for many, is NOT relevant to the problem of whether the father has any say– which is the question at hand.

PPS: I have at best an elementary grounding in Western philo. For what it’s worth, many practicing Buddhists are anti-abortion. Some articulate this stance from their cosmological understanding of the dynamics of karma and rebirth. A picturesque schematization of how the skandas (personal aggregates) travel from life to life can be found in the Dalai Lama’s book, “The Way to Freedom: Core Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism.” Not all Buddhists subscribe to that view, however, and not all are anti-abortion, either.

Kevin Kim said:

If you click the “Kevin Kim” link at the bottom of this comment, you’ll be taken to a series of posts by analytical philosopher William Vallicella re: abortion and how he formulates the problem.

Vallicella doesn’t deal with the question of whether (or to what degree) a man has a say in a woman’s choice to abort, but he does deal with the other recurrent question in this thread: the status of the fertilized egg, the fetus, etc. Whether you agree or disagree, you’ll find his position interesting.


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